This is a rarity. The original Fable for ye olde Xbox was a unique RPG with a selection of grating flaws, combat that ranged from great to annoying, some brilliant ideas, some bad ideas, and the whole package proved something of a letdown when it didn't deliver on all the many promises of lead developer Peter Molyneux.
Lots of people liked it anyway, so they're going to love this: it's probably the most consistent sequel ever made.
It shouldn't surprise you then to hear that Fable II begins the same way, too. You get used to the basics of moving, fighting and taking on quests by controlling a character when they're only a nipper, though after a few minutes disaster befalls them.
You're then skipped past the upbringing apparently spent training and brooding over their loss, and before you know it you're standing in the cheap boots of a fresh-faced adventurer ready to make a name for themselves as either an angelic hero, murderous villain, or actual reasonable human being.
The best change present in Fable II is the writing, which occasionally (often in item descriptions) manages to be brilliantly funny and is about the best reason to buy the game.
The 'big' change, however, is your dog, an uncontrollable AI companion that Molyneux says is his experiment into teaching players to love.
Oddly enough the dog is fully grown when you find it as a six-year-old kid, and stays perfectly healthy well into your 30s, but never mind that. It's a fun idea, and in the opening stages of the game you yourself becoming attached to it, but nothing ever comes to fruition because your dog is just a bit rubbish.
It sniffs out the improbable amount of hidden treasure in the world, occasionally gnaws at downed enemies and does a few little tricks, but everything it learns comes from the books scattered around the world and even when you've maxed out its stats it never really rises above a cute little extra.
If you're going to love anything it's more likely to be your real estate holdings. Fable let you buy houses for yourself, but in the sequel that's extended to stalls, shops, coach houses, and even a castle. Houses can be rented out, prices adjusted, and everything you own brings in gold every five minutes whether you're playing or not.
It's a weird one. Fun as this is, it also means gold loses all value fairly quickly and you get one less reason to care about your gold-sniffing dog.
Attack, attack, attack!
Combat's received a few additions and tweaks too, but it's still great when you're winning and nothing but irritating when you're losing or your character isn't strong enough. If your attacks don't knock enemies back then you're prone to get battered about like a pinball, and ranged attacks will often come out of nowhere and send you stumbling whether you're moving or not.
Lionhead also went ahead and removed the ability for you to die. Running out of health results in a touch of slo-mo and your character losing a minuscule amount of experience and gaining a new scar, and then your health bar's refilled and you just keep fighting.
It makes fighting more bearable, but it also strips away some of the tension and feeling of achievement combat can bring.
Just like the original Fable, this is a game that's hugely likeable, but only if you put the effort in. Make no mistake, it's genuinely charming, but everything from unclear storytelling to rubbish mini-games to glitchy graphics to sluggish menus makes an appearance, and you've got to take it all with a smile.
Fable II really does want your love. It wants you to stare at the sunsets, adore the characters and earn the 2.5 million gold needed to buy that castle. But you will need the patience to put up with its clumsiness as you go.
Fall for it, and this will love you right back
- The funniest game since Portal
- Plenty of side-quests
- Awash with unexpected details
- Combat often gets tedious
- Plenty of awkward design